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THE CULTIVATION OF A SENSE OF HUMOUR FOR CHRISTIANS

THE CULTIVATION OF A SENSE OF HUMOUR

To be entirely wanting in a sense of humour is a loss that affects even our spiritual life. When we possess it, it can help us very considerably in bearing up against the inevitable trials of life, and in meeting in a spirit of cheerfulness these days of increased misery and suffering in which we with most of the world find ourselves involved.

Our Lord Jesus never went about in a state of habitual sadness

It was characteristic of Our Blessed Lord, our great exemplar in all virtues, that although He had a clear foreknowledge of the terrible Passion and Death that lay before Him, He never went about in a state of habitual sadness. As He was human and had the tenderest and most sensitive of human hearts, there were times in His life when He showed how deeply His feelings were stirred, as when looking down upon the beautiful city of Jerusalem, and for seeing the fate that only too soon was to fall upon it, He wept at the thought that all His efforts on its behalf were to prove fruitless. We recall, too, how deeply He was affected on hearing of the death of His friend Lazarus. We know, too, how before entering upon His Passion with the betrayal of Judas in His mind, the denial of Peter and the desertion of His apostles all clearly foreseen, He was sad as He walked to His prayer and to His agony in the Garden, so that He exclaimed: “My soul is sorrowful even unto death.” This only showed that He was human even as we are. But these manifestations of His feelings were isolated and exceptional and stood out in marked contrast to that habitual cheerfulness and calm that was so conspicuous in the greater part of His life, a charm that won the confidence of the beggars by the wayside and drew Him the love of little children. As He went through all the parts of Galilee and Judea, multiplying His miracles and acts of charity, He had ever words of comfort on His lips, telling men and women “to be of good heart”. The words were an echo of His own interior soul and had their source in His close union with His Father, with whom He was One as He was God and one in will as He was Man, subject in all things to the will of His Father.

Our Lord Jesus was telling people “to be of good heart”

And so we find that in those closest imitators of Our Lord, the saints, cheerfulness was a marked feature in their lives. A sad saint is a contradiction in terms, sadness being simply incompatible with sanctity. Most, if not all, of the saints had far greater sufferings than we even in these calamitous times are called upon to endure. But they had the divine wisdom never to brood upon them, much less to grumble and talk about them. On the contrary, they regarded them as so many opportunities of proving their love for their Crucified Lord; and looking upon them in the light of eternity they came to see that in themselves they were of small account, incidents in this brief passage of time, not even as a drop of water in that infinite ocean of the everlasting hereafter.

A sad saint is a contradiction in terms; sadness is incompatible with sanctity

To get anywhere near that serenity and peace of soul that was Christ’s and His saints’, we need of course, first and chiefly, the grace of God, for the gaining of which, however, we have so many means at our disposal. But in addition we must use all natural means, so that God’s grace may more effectively work in us. And among those means a cultivation of a sense of humour occupies more place and is of greater importance than some of us may be inclined to think. It is a sense of humour that induces that cheerfulness of spirit which, as we have already indicated, is an essential in our spiritual life. It is a sense of humour that will give us a truer appreciation of our own littleness and will prevent us leading lives of pretence and of exhibiting ourselves as people of more worth than we are. It is a sense of humour that helps us not to exaggerate or to make too much of the evils from we are undoubtedly suffering. As an example of this we may remember Bairnsfather’s famous picture of the two soldiers under heavy fire taking cover in a shell hole. When one of them grumbles at the inadequacy of their shelter, the other replies: “Well, if you know of a better ‘ole, go to it.” The humour is heightened when we read of the German officer who, being shown the picture, gravely explained to his men the meaning of the words, as he thought, with no sort of suspicion of the joke in them. It was humour again when a soldier stunned and bewildered by a “dud” shell that fell between him and his comrade exclaimed, “Where are we?” and then, glancing at his friend who had apparently been no saint, he added, “Any’ow, it can’t be heaven.” And during the last war we may recall with some justifiable pride how the ordinary men and women of London, as well as those of other large cities in England, never lost their cheerfulness despite the constant and destructive bombing to which they were subjected. One woman had already lost her own home in the blitz and had found room in the house of a neighbour. When later on deprived of that too by a nearby falling shell, she merely remarked: “Well, never mind, we can always doss down in one of the Underground Stations.” It was this cheerful spirit that was a mutual help to all those suffering people; and it aroused the admiration and wonder of visitors to this country that night after night of these bombing onslaughts, men and women would go about their work during the day, seemingly quite unconcerned, and exchange jokes with each other about happenings in the night that presented to them some humorous aspect. Most of these people were at least Christian and some no doubt were good Catholics. In any case their example shows us how we ought to face the trials that beset us to-day – but we must face them in a supernatural spirit.

Facing trials in a supernatural spirit

St Paul tells us (2Cor. 9:7), quoting from the book of Ecclesiastics (35:2), “God loveth a cheerful giver.” To see in all the miseries of our present life God’s will, and to submit gladly to all that it entails, is at once to make ourselves pleasing to Him and to heap up treasure in heaven, while, if at the same time we will but keep cheerful, it helps to lighten the heavy load we may be called upon to bear.

God loveth a cheerful giver (2Cor. 9:7)

Instead of grumbling and moaning over things and thereby making life more unhappy for others as well as for ourselves, we shall often be able to find even in the most trying situations some humorous element upon which we can seize to keep ourselves smiling. The poverty, for instance, to which a large number of people to-day are reduced is indeed an affliction. The man who can no longer afford to buy himself a new suit of clothes of which he is sorely in need can laugh at himself as a sort of animated scarecrow as he walks out in the threadbare rags that is all that his now depleted wardrobe can supply. He will laugh the more if he is able to reflect that in the days of his prosperity he strutted about with an air of pomposity and importance for which the only excuses were the well-cut coat on his back and the carefully creased trousers that fell on his well-polished shoes. He may laugh at the thought that he was then no better than a ridiculous walking “tailor’s dummy”.

In a picture in an old Punch [magazine] of two tramps in rags and tatters reclining under a May tree in full bloom, there was humour in the remark of one of them who said: “I wonder whether the saying ’till May be out don’t shed a clout’ means the month or the blossom?” That poor fellow’s sense of humour must have made it easier to bear with their very evident poverty.

The Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier and Cheerer of our souls

This sense of humour relieved the sufferings of a good priest lately dead, who for years was confined to his room and towards the end of his life was unable to stand on his feet, as the least movement caused him agonising pain. Yet he was habitually cheerful and ready to share a joke with any of his visitors. When he had received the Last Sacraments and death was very near, to the nurse, who to warn him the better said, “Father, your pulse is now very, very slow,” his only reply was, “Pessimist!”

There are undoubtedly situations in which it is very difficult to savour any humour, but there are few sufferings in which a person of the right disposition cannot find something to excite his mirth or at any rate keep him cheerful. The good Catholic, who is having what is called “a hell of a time” on this earth but with the grace of God is accepting it with resignation and patience, may find at least a chuckle in the thought that he is outwitting the devil and refusing his pressing invitation to join his company in that infinitely worse hell in the next world.

There are those who, as we know, are born without any sense of humour and who in consequence are often the worst advertisers of religion. What can one say to them? It may be suggested that they pray very hard to the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier and Cheerer of our souls, so that even if no miracle be worked to make them see any sense of humour in the happenings of life, they may at least acquire a cheerful disposition that will be a help in their own spiritual life and exercise a good influence upon their neighbour.

– From: Lift Up Your Hearts, Christopher J. Wilmot, S.J., The Catholic Book Club, London, 1949

 

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Posted by on February 29, 2016 in Words of Wisdom

 

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BIRCHLEY HALL, WIGAN: THEY REFUSED TO SIT IDLY BY, WHILE THEIR FAITH AND THE FAITH OF THEIR FATHERS WAS TORN UP BY THE ROOTS

“They refused to sit idly by while their faith and the faith of their fathers was being torn up by the roots”

He purchased Birchley Hall, Lancashire, in the first year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558)

“Birchley Hall and its chapel are fortunate in having for their historian the late Dean Powell, for many years priest at Birchley. A large portion of the following account is taken from a folio volume, now kept in the priest’s house, while much of it is derived from two articles in the St. Helen’s Lantern of February, 1889, for which the good Dean supplied the information.

Passing over the earlier history of the Manor of Birchley, and the derivation of the name, we get to the solid ground of fact in 1558 – the first year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth – when Christopher Anderton, the founder of the Andertons of Lostock, purchased Birchley estate from one Roger Wetherelt. This Christopher Anderton was a successful lawyer, and appears to have acquired the property for ‘an old song.’

Birchley Hall, Lancashire, ca. 1923

Birchley Hall, Lancashire, ca. 1923

Everything was disorganised at that time

Everything was disorganised at that time, and land was about the worst investment a man could make, unless he meant to be a lay ‘Vicar of Bray.’ The Sovereigns of those ‘merrie days’ simply played shuttlecock with Catholic estates. However, Christopher, thanks to his legal acumen, and, it must be added, to his ‘dangerous temporisings,’ died in 1593, a man of many acres. He was succeeded by his son, James, also a lawyer, and also a dangerous temporiser, and it was he who built Birchley Hall. He died without children in 1618, leaving the extensive family possessions to his younger brother, Christopher. This gentleman lived to enjoy them only one year, and having several children, he left Birchley as a separate estate to his third son, Roger, who thus founded the Andertons of Birchley.

He set up the first Catholic printing press in England since the Reformation

Regarding the chapel, it is not quite clear whether James or Christopher built it, or who served it till 1645, but it is certain that it was erected about 1618, and it is probable that some member of the family did duty in it in the interval. There was scarcely a family of note in those days but numbered a priest among its members; the high-spirited gentry refused to sit idly by, while their faith and the faith of their fathers was being torn up by the roots. Certainly the Roger just referred to, unlike his uncle and grandfather, was a staunch recusant, and not satisfied with merely acting on the defensive, he carried out an aggressive warfare through the medium of a printing press which he set up in the Hall – the first Catholic press in England since the Reformation. Roger was a very learned man, and he wrote some of the works himself, but there is much confusion as to the authorship of many of the books. Those written under the name ‘John Brereley’ are now thought to have been the work of Lawrence Anderton, nephew of Roger. On this point Mr. Gillow says: ‘Among the Blundell of Crosby MSS. is a list of works ascribed to Roger Anderton by his own son Christopher in 1647, but other hands are known to have written many of these works; and it is therefore pretty clear that Roger Anderton again set up the press at Birchley, and that most of the works in the list were only printed by him.’ The list is given here, as it shows the style of literature of our Catholic forefathers. This, be it remembered, is the list sent in 1647 to William Blundell by Rev. Henry Heaton, being a copy of one sent to the latter by Christopher Anderton.

1. The Christian Manna.

2. White Dyed Black. (This work is ascribed by Oliver to Thomas Worthington, D.D.)

3. Keepe your Text.

4. The Pseudo-Scripturist. (By Fr. Silvester Norris, D.D., S.J., 1623.)

5. One God; One Faith. (By Fr. Lawrence Anderton, S.J., alias John Brereley, under the initials W. B. 1625. He was about this time in Lancashire, and probably resided with Roger Anderton.)

6. The Legacy. (The Bishop of London His Legacy or Certain Motives of D. King, late Bishop of London, for his change of Religion and dying in the Catholic and Roman Church. 1622. Written by Musket, a priest, says Gee, who is very wrath about it.)

7. The Converted Jew. (Published in 1630 in the name of Fr. John Clare, S.J., though it was not written by him. Dr. Oliver remarks that the ‘printer’s office possessed no Greek type, and there could have been no efficient reader or corrector of the press.’ If this were printed by Roger Anderton, the date, 1650, clearly proves that the press was again set up after the seizure.)

8. Rawleigh, His Ghost; (or a feigned apparition of Sir Walter Rawleigh. Translated by A. B. 1631.)

9. Campion Translated. (This was probably the English translation of Campion’s Decem Rationes, of which an edition was published in London in 1606.)

10. The Non-Entitie of Protestancy.

11. Puritanisme the Mother; Sinn the Daughter.

12. An Apologie of English Armenianisme.

13. An Antidote against Purgatorie.

14. Maria Triumphans, Being a Discourse wherein the B. Virgin Mary, Mother of God, is defended and vindicated from all such Dishonours and Indignities with which the Precisions of these our days are accustomed unjustly to charge Her.

15. Adelphomachia, or Ye Warrs of Protestancy.

16. Bellarmin of Eternal Felicitie. (Translated.)

17. Bellarmin of the Lamentation of ye Dove, translated. (This may be the translation made by William Anthony Batt, O.S.B.: The Mourning of the Dove; or of the great Benefit and Good of Teares. III Books. Written in Latin by the most illustrious Card. Bellarmine of the Society of Jesus, and translated into English by A. B., Anthony Batt, O.S.B. 1641.)

18. Bellarmin of ye Words of Our Lord.

19. Clavis Homerica.

20. Miscellanea.

21. Luther’s Alcoran.

22. The English Nunne; (being a treatise, wherein the Author endeavoureth to draw young and unmarried Catholike gentlewomen to imbrace a votary, and religious life. Written by N. N. 1642.)

23. The Catholicke Younger Brother.

24. A Panegyricke, or Laudative Discourse.

25. Bellarmine’s Controversies (the whole of which were translated into English by Roger Anderton, and sent by him to Rev. Henry Heaton at St Omer, in two large tomes, but were never printed.

A great service not only to the Catholics of Lancashire, but to those of all England

Probably all the other works in the foregoing list were printed at the Anderton Press. Roger Anderton by his printing press thus rendered a great service not only to the Catholics of Lancashire, but to those of all England, and we cannot too highly praise the sportsmanlike pluck which Roger showed in daring such risks as he did in setting up the press at a time of most bitter persecution, and in again restarting it after it had been destroyed by order of the Council.

At a time of most bitter persecution

He had six sons and four daughters: four of his sons became priests and three of his daughters nuns; one of his sons turned soldier and fell in 1645 while defending Greenhalgh Castle, near Garstang, for Lord Derby against the Parliamentarians – a fact which goes to prove how true Catholics were at this time, as indeed they have ever been, to the Throne. The elder daughter, Elizabeth, married John Cansfield, of Cansfield and Robert Hall, North Lancashire, an ancient Catholic family now represented by Lord Gerard of Bryn. The Cansfields, says Mr. Gillow, appear in the Recusant Roll from the very first, until the family became extinct, and the immense sums they paid in penalties for the recusancy of both their sons and daughters is something astonishing. Mary, the daughter of John and Elizabeth Cansfield, taking to him as her dower the Birchley estate. Thus did Birchley become the property of the Gerards , after which it became of only secondary importance, and was assigned as a residence to the dowagers of the family. It was bought in 1898 by Mr. John Middlehurst, largely through the efforts of Dean Powell, who thus had the great satisfaction of saving it from falling into non-Catholic hands.

I was always a Catholic and wish to embrace the ecclesiastical state of life

Of the priests who served the Birchley Mission, Roger Anderton came in 1645. He had been educated at St Omer’s College, in the North of France, and at the English College, Rome, where he was entered under the name ‘Edward Poole’ – Poole being the surname of a family connection. In Foley’s Records of the English Province, S.J., is the following passage about the youth. In answer to the usual questions put to students on entering the English College, he says: ‘My name is Roger Anderton. I am 18 years of age, and was born in the County of Lancaster. My parents are Catholics, wealthy and of high family. I have six brothers and four sisters. Nearly all my relations are Catholics. I made my rudimentary studies at home and at St Omer’s College. I was always a Catholic, and wish to embrace the ecclesiastical state of life.’ The examination is endorsed ‘Edward Poole.’

It was the common practice of the time for priests to pass under two or more names

It was the common practice of the time for priests to pass under two or more names. Roger above adopted the name ‘Poole’; two of his brothers assumed the name Shelley, and another that of Stanford, the latter being their mother’s maiden name. Roger was ordained priest in 1645, and in the September of that year he came to take charge of the Mission of Birchley, forming thus the first link in an unbroken chain of priests that have since laboured in this Mission.

Supplying imprisoned priests with food

He was created Archdeacon of Lancashire – a dignity which no longer exists – and was the first Secretary of ‘The Lancashire Infirm Secular Clergy Fund,’ which in those days was devoted to supplying imprisoned priests with food. He died, full of years, in 1695, leaving a sum of £200 for the maintenance of a secular priest to officiate at Birchley on two Sundays every month; a bequest which his niece, Same Mary Gerard, subsequently, in 1723, enjoined her executors to respect, in a long document, copy of which is in the folio volume before-mentioned.

Clad in a white sheet, a certain man of the Congregation confessed his crime

After the death of Roger Anderton, Rev. Richard Jameson settled here for a time, but his brother, Thomas Jameson, alias Seddon, was the real parish priest, and attended to the Mission from 1698 to 1717. Then Rev. Thomas Young, alias Brooks, figured here for a few months. In 1719, Rev. Thomas Lancaster appeared on the scene; he served Garswood and Orrell, as well as Birchley. He in turn was succeeded by Rev. Emerick Grimbaldstone, a yeoman’s son – and could any name bear a more yeomanlike ring? He was born at Standish, near Wigan.

The next priest was Rev. Henry Dennett – the hero of the canonical penance incident as follows: The discipline of the Catholic Church in past ages required that those who had shocked the public conscience – particularly by sins against the Sixth Commandment – should publicly expiate the scandal. It happened in the year 1801 that a certain man of the Congregation created a great scandal by a gross act of immorality; and one Sunday, clad in a white sheet, he was made to kneel at the altar-rails, confess his crime, and receive the reproofs of his pastor. This, claimed Dean Powell, was the last canonical penance of which there is any record in England, though I may mention that in the Highlands of Scotland such penances were not uncommon at a later period than 1800.

Fr Penswick was the last survivor of the old Douai priests

Father Sennett died in 1803, and was followed by the man who left the deepest mark on the Birchley Mission – the Rev. John Penswick, son of the then agent for the Gerard estates. He was a great favourite with the Lord Gerard of the time, and died in retirement at Garswood in 1864, at the venerable age of eighty-six. He was the last survivor of the old Douai priests, and lies in the churchyard at Birchley, all his predecessors having been buried at Windleshaw. It was he who built the present church in 1828. There is a very fine portrait of him in the sacristy at Birchley. Rev. Patrick Fairhurst succeeded; then came Rev. John Hardman, who built the schools in 1860; Rev. Thomas Walton; Rev. Joseph Wrennall, who built the chancel of the church and the presbytery; Rev. Austin Powell, who was priest from 1872 till 1910; and Rev. Joseph Rigby, at present in charge of the Mission.

No government informers ‘polluted’ this particular neighbourhood

In connection with some of the earlier history of Birchley, Dean Powell remarks: ‘It will not be out of place to consider here some of the disabilities under which Catholics suffered in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Passing over the more bloody persecution of Queen Elizabeth’s days, by the laws still in operation in 1778, a priest convicted of saying Mass was liable to imprisonment for life; a Catholic who received his education abroad forfeited his estates, which could be claimed by the next Protestant heir; a son who became Protestant could take possession of his Catholic father’s property; no Catholic could acquire any legal right to property by purchase; and if we enquire how it was that none of the priests at Birchley in early times fell into the hands of the law, the answer, of course, is that no informers ‘polluted’ this neighbourhood.

It was not until the Relief Act of 1791 that priests were allowed to wear black clothing

Living at the Hall, or at all events in the same block, the priests appeared in the public eye to be merely country squires. They farmed, until not many years ago, a large part of the estate; they were not then, as now, addressed as ‘Father’; indeed, there was nothing in their dress to denote that they were priests – for it was not until the Relief Act of 1791 that they were allowed by law to wear black clothing. And what is here said of Birchley is true of all the Catholic districts of Lancashire. The Catholic people were so numerous, and so devoted to their priests, that these could live amongst them in safety even though the laws condemned them to the aforesaid penalties.

Reporting Catholics as a source of extra income

By degrees also the Protestant magistrates came to have a great respect for the priests, of which numerous examples might be quoted. For instance, in 1778, the Rev. Thomas Weldon, who is buried at Windleshaw Abbey, was arrested and taken before Mr. Hughes, J.P., of Sherdley Hall, on the charge of exercising faculties as a priest. Some informer, in the hopes of obtaining the reward of £100 awarded by the Act of William III, had set the law in motion, but Mr. Hughes declined to hear the case, saying that Mr. Weldon was a quiet, amiable neighbour.’

Elizabethan style

And now to return to the Hall, the centre of so much Catholic activity. Of the many historic sites in Lancashire interesting to Catholics, not one that I have visited is in such perfect preservation as Birchley. The house is in the Elizabethan style, with large mullioned windows, and although these had been replaced by modern window-frames, in many cases the present tenant has restored them to their old style with most pleasing effect. The rooms are large, all the ceilings being supported by fine oak beams, and a portion of the old staircase remains, though the greater portion of it has been removed elsewhere. The furniture throughout is of date similar to that of the Hall itself, and the whole is in the most perfect order, thanks to the care of the present family, to whom the Catholic associations of the Hall give it a title to their veneration and respect, which is most charming to witness.

Keeping guard on the roof against the sudden arrival of priest-catchers

The chapel portion is the left wing as you approach the Hall. The old priest’s house was on the ground floor, and was, until the building of the schools, occupied by the teachers. The chapel is reached by a flight of stone steps on the outside, and is of very considerable size, considering the period at which it was built. It measures 30 feet long, width 22 feet, and height 18 feet. The old altar and altar-rails still remain, whilst round the walls are quaint Stations of the Cross. We can well realise that ‘when finished it created great excitement amongst the honest country folk, who thought that their chapel could now vie in splendour with any in the land’ – and where, indeed, in Lancashire did such a chapel exist in 1618, and if not in Catholic Lancashire, then where else within these islands?

A trap-door and a hollow wall with a secret panel in it

On the epistle side of the little sanctuary is the vestry, and here in the floor is a trap-door some 2 feet square. A hollow wall with a secret panel in it used to stand over this trap-door, which gives access to the room below, whence the pursued priest could either remain in concealment till the danger was past, or make his way through another secret door into the Hall. In the room adjoining the chapel is an opening, now built up, which led on to the roof. This would no doubt be used by watchers, for it was the custom of that time to keep guard against the sudden arrival of priest-catchers, more particularly while Mass was being celebrated.

A ‘mobile’ altar 

Some years ago a chalice of pewter and vestments were found in the priest’s hiding place mentioned above; these are now preserved in the Presbytery. Here, too, are three or four altar-stones of early date, thin and small, so that they could easily be carried from place to place, as was necessary when the priests had no fixed chapels wherein to say holy Mass. Another chalice, small, but very handsome, bears the inscription, ‘Ex dono Annae Blounte, uxoris Jacobi Anderton… 85,’ which Dean Powell considered to be 1685. James Anderton died December 16, 1673; he had married Anne, daughter of Sir William Blount, Bart., of Todington. The chalice is beaten silver, gilt, and hashas all the appearance of being earlier in date than the gift date noted above.

Perpetual Masses are celebrated annually for Sir William Gerard, fifth Baronet, who died in 1721, and for Dame Mary Gerard, his widow; for Sir William Gerard, son and successor of the above, who died in 1732; also for James Anderton, second husband of Dame Mary Gerard. I cannot better conclude this sketch of one of the most interesting Missions of Lancashire than in the words of Dean Powell, written many years ago. ‘It is fitting,’ wrote the good Dean, ‘that the following priests and Benefactors of the Birchley Mission should long be remembered and their anniversaries duly celebrated:

‘March 6. – Sir Robert Gerard, ninth Baronet, who died in 1784. He increased the annual interest of the monies left by Mr. Roger Anderton from £12 to £20.

March 15. – Robert, first Lord Gerard, died in 1887. He gave £300 and the land for the school…

April 8. – Rev. Emerik Grimbaldstone. He long served Birchley and died in 1786…

August 2. – Sir William Gerard, eleventh Baronet, who died in 1826. He gave the Church land and £1,000 towards the building…”

– Dom F. O. Blundell, Old Catholic Lancashire, Burns Oates & Washbourne, London 1925

 

 

 

 

 

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TOWNELEY HALL AND BURNLEY, LANCASHIRE: FINED FOR BEING CATHOLIC AND FAR WORSE

“This John, about the sixth year (1564) of her Majesty’s reign (Queen Elizabeth I) that now is, for professing the Apostolic Catholic Roman Faith was imprisoned first at Chester, then sent to the Marshalsea, then to York Castle, then to the Blockhouses in Hull, then to the Gate house in Westminster, then to Broughton in Oxfordshire, then twice to Ely in Cambridgeshire. And so now at 73 years old and blind, he is bound to appear, and to keep within five miles of Towneley, his house, and who has since the statute of 23 Elizabeth (1581) paid unto the Exchequer £20 a month for not going to the Protestant church and doth still; and there is paid already above £5,000.”

 

Towneley Hall, ca. 1923

Towneley Hall, ca. 1923

 

TOWNELEY HALL AND BURNLEY

“Even previous to the so-called Reformation, Towneley Hall and its family had considerable influence in Lancashire, for in 1454 Richard, Bishop of Lichfield, granted licence to John Towneley for an Oratory and Mass at Towneley during the Bishop’s good pleasure. One of the first chaplains was Rev. Richard Parker: whilst in 1481 the Abbot of Whalley asked Richard Towneley to appoint Rev. John Green as chaplain in the place of Richard Parker, lately deceased.

Ye Chronicles of Blackburnshire

In 1590, Towneley Hall figures on Lord Burghley’s map as a marked house, indicated by the cross on it, as a sign that the Towneley family, for its fidelity to the Catholic Faith, was to be wiped out by fines and imprisonments.

For remaining faithful Catholics, the family was to be wiped out by the government with fines and imprisonments

These severe measures continued for fully two centuries, yet at the end of that period the family emerged into a state of opulence never dreamed of by the Townley of 1450, whilst their defence of the Catholic Faith was recognised as the chief cause, under God, that the old Faith was still preserved, and was able, between the years 1800 and 1900, to blossom forth with such wonderful vigour. We are fortunate in having for all this period the history of the late Rev. R. Smith, to whom the present writer readily acknowledges his indebtedness. This [article] on Townley is almost entirely condensed from Ye Chronicles of Blackburnshire.

Each stone of the Chapel was marked

The chapel, which the aforesaid priests served, was originally on the second floor. Until the year 1700, the front of Towneley Hall consisted of this chapel and library. Charles Towneley removed the chapel and sacristy to their present position. Each stone was marked, and everything removed with religious care and reverence and rebuilt on the present site. On the beautifully worked door of the confessional to the right of the altar, there is the date 1601, and the initials of John Towneley, of Richard, his son, and of the Confessor. The public entrance to the chapel was from the back up some steps, and though the door is now walled up, the mark of the stairway outside can still be seen.

In this chapel hundreds of our Catholic forefathers, under varied conditions and great fears, have heard Mass and received the sacraments

Regarding the chapel itself, which one cannot visit with feelings of deep affection and devotion, it measured 33 feet in length and 18 feet in width. About one-third of the length formed the chancel and the rest was the have. It is 12 feet high with a flat ceiling, composed of elaborately moulded oak beams and joists; but the chancel portion is double this height, thus affording room for a good altar and fine reredos, over which was a window. The entrance door to the chapel was handsomely carved, and to the north-east side of the chapel was the entrance to the small priests’ room, or vestry. In this chapel hundreds of our Catholic forefathers, under varied conditions and great fears, have heard Mass and received the sacraments; for long years in penal times it was the centre of Catholic life in the North of England. It served Catholics for many miles round, till, in 1817, Burnley Wood Chapel was built, and after that it continued as the family chapel till about 1895.

These holes were the only sources of light and air to the imprisoned priest in the hiding-place

In the Hall there are now two hiding-places: the larger and better-known one is situated at the south end of the central hall. The entrance to it is through what is really the ceiling of this secret chamber, the floor of which is composed of daub, a mixture of clay and rushes. This material would no doubt be selected in order to prevent any sounds being heard from the hiding-place: it measures 18 feet by 15 feet and 6 feet high, which is very large for a hiding ‘hole’, as they used to be called. In the walls are four holes, about 9 inches square, almost right through the masonery. My guide suggested that these had been made by inquisitive visitors, who were probing for further secret chambers; but I pointed out to him, that so far from this being the case, these holes were as old as the main walls themselves. Each hole is built of square stones until within a few inches of the outside, when the opening has evidently been closed up from outside. These holes were the only sources of light and air to the imprisoned priest, and thus they played a most important part in the designing and building of the room. But when the chapel was moved to its present site and a new priests’ hiding place was made, these holes were closed up from the outside. The second hiding-place was only discovered a fortnight before my visit in August, 1923. It measures 6 feet by 5 feet and is 4 to 6 feet high, being situated immediately above the sacristy and alongside the present chapel.

A fascinating discovery – preventions in case of a government raid (removing all traces of Holy Masses)

A very quaint paper was recently published in the Burnley Express, August 1, 1923. It had been sent to the Mayor of Burnley by Lord Abingdon, whose first wife was Caroline, daughter of Charles Towneley. It is here given in the original spelling.

A NOTE OF THE PRIVATE PLACES AT TOWNELEY.

In the library over against the closet door the middle panell slides back, and the same over against the window. On the floor over against the door, the base slides up and takes out; in the floor is a hole, in which an iron hook is to be put, and will open to a large place by lifting up the whole floor.

At the back side of the library door, the side wainscote may be taken out, and lets you into a place, where some boards may be taken up, which will let you into a large place, which held all the library books: at the chapel door taking up one board, which is not nailed fast, will let you into such another.

In the chapel the altar table draws out, and also the upper steps, which will let you into a large place, in which may be laid all the guilding, which is only put on with pegs, and takes to pieces: care must be taken not to knock the gilding in taken down or putting up.

Over the cannopy of the altar in the library lies a door for the tabernacle balls for the top of the pillars, instead of the flower pots, and also capitals and bottoms instead of the gilding, so that the place may be made use of though the gilding be taken down.

At the steps going from the stone stairs to the garret a step may be taken out, where there is a large place all over the green parlour. In the second room in the gallery the wainscote opens in the middle of the chimney upon hinges, where there is a hole in the wall not very big.

In the third room in the gallery is the close stool closet, the pannel towards the garden has a latch within, which is opened with an iron pin at a hole in the door, which lifts up the latch, which may be made faster by those within: it has a seat and will hold two persons.

No servants should be trusted with this, but upon some occasion some trusty servant may be made use off for some of the places to be used, but not made acquainted with them all.

Copied from a paper found in 1793 in my father’s pocket book and wrote by my great I grandmother, Ursula Towneley; she was D (daughter) of Fermor of Tusmore in Oxfordshire.                            C.T.

 

The Chapel at Towneley Hall, ca. 1923

The Chapel at Towneley Hall, ca. 1923

 

Before 1700 or after?

Her marriage took place in 1685 and her husband died in 1711, so that it is difficult to determine whether the note refers to the house before the alterations of 1700, or after. Then, again, extensive alterations have taken place since the Hall became the property of the Burnley Corporation. For, to make the two long galleries for which the upper storeys of the fine old castle-like building are now famous throughout the country, dividing walls had to be taken down and other changes made, whilst at different times there have been numerous alterations carried out elsewhere.

The Catholic prisoners had to bear the cost of their own food and lodging during imprisonment, and that at extortionate rates

Of the different members of the family who suffered for the Catholic Faith, the first in the long list is John Towneley, of whom a contemporary account says: ‘This John, about the sixth year (1564) of her Majesty’s reign (Queen Elizabeth) that now is, for professing the Apostolic Catholic Roman Faith was imprisoned first at Chester, then sent to the Marshalsea, then to York Castle, then to the Blockhouses in Hull, then to the Gate house in Westminster, then to Broughton in Oxfordshire, then twice to Ely in Cambridgeshire. And so now at 73 years old and blind, he is bound to appear, and to keep within five miles of Towneley, his house, and who has since the statute of 23 Elizabeth (1581) paid unto the Exchequer £20 a month for not going to the Protestant church and doth still; and there is paid already above £5,000.’ This fine, says Father Smith, was only one of the many which he had to pay; the Catholic prisoners, moreover, had to bear the cost of their own food and lodging during imprisonment, and that at extortionate rates.

Binding them in London, away from their family, friends and acquaintances

In 1584 the Privy Council states that Dean Nowell – one of Elizabeth’s commissioners – had requested that John Towneley, committed at Manchester for not conforming in matters of religion, and now fallen into certain diseases, might be suffered to repair to London to consult with the best physicians. The Council directed Mr. Towneley to be sent up in the company of some trusty person, so that he may not be suffered to go out of the way to any house than the ordinary inns. At the same time the Council decided that ‘both Sir John Southworth and Mr. Towneley having paid their fines according to the law, cannot be longer imprisoned, for that would be a double punishment for one offence.’ The Council thought them at liberty more dangerous in Lancashire, where they greatly allied and friended, than in London, and therefore it was better to bind them to remain in the Metropolis.

More sequestrations 

Another notable member of the family, from the Catholic point of view, was Richard Towneley, who was born at York in 1628. He became famous as an astronomer and mathematician. He sold the Nocton estates to repair the heavy fines and losses entailed upon his estates by the sequestrations of the Commonwealth. Of his children, Thomas became a secular priest, and served for some forty years on the Lancashire Mission – namely, from 1693 to 1733. Five more of his children embraced religious life on the Continent. John became a monk and Richard a Carthusian at Nieuport; Margaret and Cicely became nuns at the English Augustinian Convent, Paris; of these, Margaret was born at Towneley in 1664, and took the veil in 1683, became Subprioress in 1714, and died in 1731. Cicely was born at Towneley in 1676, took the veil in 1695, and died in 1728. Frances, their sister, married, but, being left a widow, she, too, entered the same convent as a boarder in 1719, whilst her daughter Elizabeth became a nun at Cambrai in 1712.

Richard Towneley, the father, along with Edward Tildesley, took a prominent part in the Rising of 1715. They were imprisoned, and would have lost their lives, but so great was the horror created by the barbarous way in which the other condemned prisoners had been executed, that the jury accepted the plea of Towneley and Tildesley – that what they did had, in a manner, been forced upon them – and acquitted them.

How greatly the fines for recusancy and loyalty had reduced the fortunes of this once great family may be judged from the following letter of Richard Towneley, dated February 12, 1716, to Mr. Richard Starkie, at his Chambers in Furnival’s Inn, London:

Sir,

Yours received, and I must beg you will not fail going as soon as you receive this to the Commissioners and acquaint them that Thomas Hilton came this day along with an Attorney and two Bailiffs and took forcible possession. I desire they will give me orders per the first, what I shall do, for they threaten to sell the small goods I have procured for my poor children and throw them out of doors within a few days. Dear Sir, I beg you will not fail me in this by the very first, and you will ever oblige,

Your Humble Servant

RICHARD TOWNELEY.

Unless they renounce their faith, they inherit nothing, because their late father was Catholic till the end

That the measures of repression after the Rising fell especially heavy on the Catholics is shown from the following letter from the Sheriff of Lincoln. Mrs. Towneley was a daughter of Lord Widdrington.

‘May it please your Honours, in obedience to your Honours’ precept I made enquiry… after the Widdringtons to receive their goods at Blankney House, and all has been sold except these few… the only item is a large table in the hall, supposed to be an heirloom. The family of the late Lord Widdrington are to receive nothing out of his immense estates, because their father was a Catholic, unless every child shall be educated in the Protestant religion, and orders were given to one of the principal Secretaries of State that he might proceed to sell their estates.’

These were sold in 1729, and realised the enormous sum for those days of £96,525.

How closely the Towneley were associated with the Royal Stuart family is seen from the prominent part two members took in the Rising of 1745. Sir John Towneley, a great and learned scholar, was tutor to ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie,’ and took part in the campaign of 1745-46. After the Battle of Culloden he escaped to France, and long kept up his friendship with the Prince and his brother, the Cardinal Duke of York. Sir John died in London in 1782, aged eighty-five.

They were publicly butchered by the common hangman in London

Francis Towneley became Commander of the Manchester Regiment. He was the bravest and most faithful to his Prince of even those devoted followers, and defeated Carlisle till forced to capitulate. Contrary to the written promise of William, Duke of Cumberland, Towneley and other Lancashire gentlemen were tried and found guilty of treason. They were publicly butchered by the common hangman in London, and the horrible injustice of their death heaped additional unpopularity on George II. Towneley’s fate became the theme of the following popular ballad – William being, of course, the Duke of Cumberland.

Towneley’s Ghost

The bloody axe his body fair

Into four partes cut,

And every part and eke his head

Upon a pole was put.

 

When the sun in shades of night was lost

And all were fast asleep,

In glided Towneley’s murdered ghost,

And stood at William’s feet.

 

‘Infernal wretch, away,’ he cried,

‘And view the mangled shade,

Who in thy perjured faith relied

And basely was betrayed.

 

Embraced in bliss, embraced in ease,

Tho’ now thou seem’st to lie,

My injured shade shall gall thy ease

And make thee beg to die.

 

Think on the hellish acts you’ve done,

The thousands you’ve betrayed;

Nero himself would blush to own

The slaughter thou hast made.

 

No infants’ shrieks nor parents’ tears

Could stop thy bloody hand;

Not even ravished virgins’ tears

Appease thy dire command.

 

But oh, what pangs are set apart

In hell, thou’lt shortly see;

When even all the damned will start,

To view a friend like thee.’

 

With speed, affrighted William rose

All trembling, wan, and pale

And to his cruel sire he goes

And tells the dreadful tale.

 

‘Cheer up, my son, my darling son,’

The bold ursurper said;

‘Never repent of what you’ve done

Nor be at all dismayed.

 

If we on Stuart’s throne can dwell,

And reign securely here,

Thy uncle Satan’s King in Hell,

And he’ll protect us there.’

 

Charles Towneley – He never neglected his duties as a faithful Catholic

Charles Towneley, nephew of the above [Francis Towneley], was born in 1737, and succeeded to the estates at the age of five. At ten years of age he was sent to the English College, Douai, and thence to Paris. Later he resided much in Rome, and made a magnificent collection of statuary, which he playfully called his ‘dead family.’

He acquired a European reputation, yet he never neglected his religious duties as a faithful Catholic, nor his obligations to his friends at Burnley. He regularly spent some months of every year at Towneley Hall, embellishing its grounds, and forwarding the interests of its people. Dignified, amiable, cheerful and accomplished, untiring in his care of his tenantry and the poor of his estates, a splendid cultivator of the beautiful, the figure of Charles Towneley appeals to the imagination as that of an ideal Englishman of the eighteenth century. (Father Smith, p. 182.)

After his death in 1805, the British Museum acquired his collection, which now forms one of the very greatest treasures of our National treasure house. ‘In a general way, Lancashire is thought of chiefly as a county which has made important contributions to machinery and manufactures. It is pleasant to remember that for the enjoyment of such works of art as the Capitoline Venus, and other beautiful and noble sculptures, which compose the Towneley gallery, the thanks of the nation are due to the taste, energy, enterprise and liberalities of a Lancashire Worthy, Charles Towneley.’ (Lancs. Worthies, II Series, p. 200.)

Great is Truth, and it will prevail

Peregrine Towneley, born in 1772, succeeded in 1813, gave the land for the Burnley Wood chapel, and himself contributed £1,000 towards the building. In 1831 he was made High Sheriff of Lancashire, an office held by his ancestor John Towneley in 1532. Stirring times had indeed filled those past three centuries, but the family had been true to the motto ‘Tenez me Vraye’ (‘Hold the Truth’) and certainly few better examples could be found in the renewed prosperity of the family in the nineteenth century of another: ‘Magna eat Veritas et praevalebit’ (‘Great is Truth, and it will prevail’).

What do we know of the priests of Towneley and Burnley?

Of the priests who successively attended the Catholics of Towneley and Burnley, Robert Woodruff entered the English College, Rheims, in May, 1577; he was ordained in Rome, 1582, and sent to England along with John Nutter and Samuel Conyers. In 1586 ‘It appeareth that Robert Woodruff, a seminary priest, was received at the house of Janet Woodruff, of Bank Top, in the parish of Burnley, this half year, by common report.’ In 1590 he was arrested again at Crosby Hall, and imprisoned along with his host, Mr. Richard Blundell, who died in prison the following year. In 1603, after thirteen years’ imprisonment, Father Woodruff was reprieved and sent into exile, as reported in the Douai College Register, and after that he is lost sight of.

Father William Richmond, after his escape from York Castle, lived with the Towneleys at Towneley Hall, where he probably died in the first quarter of the seventeenth century.yer. Gillow says that he searched in vain for Father Richmond’s burial notice at St Peter’s, Burnley, and he thinks that Burnley, and especially Towneley, were too closely watched for this priest to be able to stay here long without being recaptured, so nothing more is known of him (p. 131).

Some of the district’s martyrs’ biographies

But constancy to the Old Faith was not confined to the squire and his family: the yeomanry and peasantry of the district were just as staunch. No less than three martyrs are most closely connected with the district.

Hang, drawn and quartered at Tyburn, London

Of these, the first in order was John Nutter, born at Reedley Hallows, Burnley, who entered the English College, Rheims, in 1579, and was ordained in 1582. He came to England intending to land at Scarborough, but the ship foundering upon the coast of Norfolk, Mr. Nutter was put on shore at Dunwich. He was at once arrested and sent to the Marshalsea, in London, and the following year, 1584, he was tried and condemned with four other priests. After lying in irons five days in the Tower, he was drawn, together with the same four confessors, to Tyburn, and there hanged, cut down alive, bowelled and quartered.

He was prisoner in the Tower of London as early as 1583, and was tortured

The second martyr was Robert, brother of the above, who was ordained priest in 1581, and in the following year came on the English Mission. He was a prisoner in the Tower as early as 1583, where he was twice tortured with the ‘scavenger’s daughter’. He was banished in 1585, but returned, and was again imprisoned. Escaping with Venerable Edward Thwing, he was rearrested in Lancashire and executed at Lancaster, July 26, 1600, solely on account of his priesthood. (Challoner.)

He openly acknowledged that he was a priest, and as such was sentenced to death

The third martyr was Thomas Whitaker, born in 1611 at Burnley, where his father was schoolmaster. At the age of twenty-three he went to the English College, Valladolid in Spain, the Towneleys paying the expenses of his journey. He was ordained in 1638, and at once came on the English Mission. He exercised his priestly functions with great zeal for five years, until he was seized and committed to Lancaster Castle. Thence he escaped, only, however, to be captured again in 1643, when he was again imprisoned in Lancaster. After three years of most holy life in prison he was brought to trial, when he openly acknowledged that he was a priest, and as such was sentenced to death. He suffered at Lancaster, August 7, 1646, in the thirty-third year of his age and the eighth of his mission. Further details of his life may be read in Bishop Challoner’s Memoirs of Missionary Priests.

The number of those confirmed shows that many of the old Catholics still survived

In 1661 Rev. Peter Gifford came to be Chaplain to the Towneleys. In 1675 he was Secretary of the famous Lancashire Infirm Clergy Fund, and in 1682 was elected Vicar-General of the North. He died, aged sixty-six, in 1689, at Towneley Hall, where he had probably found moderate security under the protection of the family. During his stay at Towneley, Bishop Leyburne held a great confirmation there. King James II. had come to the throne in 1685, and had heartily welcomed the Bishop, lodging him in Whitehall, and granting him a pension of £1,000 a year. There would be much rejoicing at Towneley when the good Bishop came, and the number of those confirmed – 203 – shows that many of the old Catholics still survived. Burnley at that time was only a small town.

Pre-reformation vestments, perhaps originally from Whalley Abbey

Father Thomas Anderson, born in 1675, of the Euxton family, was the next priest. He was ordained in 1702, and in 1705 came to Towneley Hall and lived with the family. His record of baptisms, marriages, and stipends of Masses still exists. After the Stuart Rising of 1715 he was convicted as a recusant at the Lancaster Sessions, when he was described as ‘one Anderton, a reputed Popish priest at Towneley.’ That year he received from Mrs. Ursula Towneley £10 for the half-year, his annual salary being £20. Father Anderton’s notebook was sold at the last dispersion of the Towneley Hall library, and became the property of the Burnley Literary and Scientific Society, while at a still more recent date (1922) the Burnley Corporation secured the very valuable pre-Reformation vestments, which are now on exhibition at their old home, Towneley Hall. It is said that these beautiful vestments originally belonged to Whalley Abbey.

Father Anderton spent the whole of his missionary career at Towneley. He was greatly respected by his patrons, and esteemed by the numerous Catholics who formed his congregation. He was a member of the Old Chapter, and in July, 1732, was elected Archdeacon of Lancashire. He closed his days peacefully at Towneley, July 13, 1741, aged sixty-six.

He was succeeded by Rev. George Kendal, who also succeeded him as Archdeacon of Lancashire. At this time Towneley was the centre and headquarters of the secular clergy, the archdeacons, and later the vicars capos topic, residing there. In 1744 Dr. Kendal resigned the Mission of Burnley and Towneley to take charge of that at Fernyhalgh.

Rev. John Harrison, born at Cottam in 1714, was priest there in 1746, when his house and chapel were burnt down by the fanatical mob from Preston. Father Harrison removed to Towneley and served that Mission for thirty-one years, until he was no longer able (1746-1777). He then went to live with his brother in Preston, and died there in 1780. At this period (1773) Bishop Petre reported to Propaganda that there were sixty-nine residences for priests in Lancashire, and that the Catholics numbered 14,000. The following year Bishop Walton confirmed at Burnley, but the numbers – only thirty-nine – seem to show that the Catholics had been dwindling under the bitter persecution of those times. In 1784 Bishop Mathew Gibson confirmed twenty-five at Burnley.

Dear to God and the poor

Rev. Thomas Caton was priest from 1785 to 1811. He gathered together the various registers which begin in 1705, and which he himself continued till 1809. He was succeeded by Rev. Louis Merlin, whose epitaph may be seen in St Peter’s churchyard, Burnley, as follows: ‘There rests here, dear to God and the poor, Rev. Lewis Merlin, who, an exile from his home in France, first in Scotland, then in England, gave himself to works of piety and charity; at length, broken down by his arduous labours, he died at Towneley December 12, 1819, in his fifty-fifth year.’

Father Charles Lupton came to Burnley in 1819, and died at Towneley five years later. Previous to his death, Father – later Canon – Hodgson came to relieve him, and remained twenty-five years. In 1824 the Easter communicants numbered 116, and in 1825 150. In 1829 Burnley Wood Chapel was enlarged, and in 1849 it was replaced by St. Mary’s, which was opened amidst great rejoicings, Cardinal Wiseman being the preacher of the day.

The opening of St Mary’s Catholic church after centuries of suffering

But bigotry was still very rife in Burnley; the town was flooded with a most sacrilegious poster, and the walls of the town were plastered with ‘no popery’ placards; the exterior carvings round the church were greatly damaged, and the statue of Our Lady, within a niche of the church, was often shot at, but was never hit. St Mary’s Bazaar Book of 1902 truly says: ‘It is a far cry now to the time when, in 1817, the first Catholic church was built in Burnley Wood. Up to that time the chapel in Towneley Hall had been from time immemorial the only place of worship for miles round. It seems difficult to realise that, when the little Burnley Wood chapel was built, it was the only one for Burnley, Todmorden, Bacup, Colne, Barrow Ford, Nelson, Brierfield, Lowerhouse, and Padiham. Now all these places have churches of their own, whilst in Burnley itself we have four churches where our grand old Catholic Faith is practised.’

Witness of the piety and sufferings of past generations

Towneley Hall, in consequence of mining and other industrial operations, became quite unsuited for a private residence, and was sold to the Corporation of Burnley in 1902. In the following year it was opened as an art gallery and museum, so that may of our readers will be able to see round it, and to visit the chapel and priests’ hiding places, witnesses of the piety and sufferings of past generations which have borne such fruit in our own happier times.”

– Dom F. O. Blundell, O.S.B., Old Catholic Lancashire, Volume I, Burns Oates & Washbourne Ltd., London, 1925

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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WILL THERE BE A NEW ROW OVER THE BURIAL OF CATHOLIC KING ALFRED THE GREAT?

“Researchers have claimed they may have discovered remains of King Alfred the Great, the 9th century royal remembered for protecting England from the Vikings and educating a largely illiterate nation.

The University of Winchester said in a statement this week that a pelvis found in a box of bones in the city’s museum is likely to be either from the legendary leader or his son, King Edward the Elder.

‘EXTREMELY EXCITED’

Nick Thorpe, head of the university’s archaeology department, said he and his colleagues are ‘extremely excited to have been able to plausibly link this human bone to one of these two crucial figures in English history.’

‘HE’S THE ONLY ONE CALLED ‘GREAT”

Alfred, a Catholic Saxon king who ruled from 871 to 899, is known for blocking repeated Viking incursions, reordering his nation’s finances and reforming its legal code.

He’s also remembered as an educator, inviting scholars from across the continent to his court, directing young English freemen to learn to read and even translating several works on his own.

‘He’s one of England’s most famous kings,’ said Simon Keynes, a University of Cambridge historian who is an authority on the monarch. ‘He’s the only one that’s called ‘Great’.’

LOST IN THE REFORMATION

Alfred’s bones are known to have been moved after he died, eventually being deposited at Hyde Abbey in Winchester, about 65 miles (100 kilometres) southwest of London.

But much uncertainty followed with the tumult of the Reformation; an 18th-century building project that turned the site into a jail; and the claims of a 19th-century antiquary named John Mellor who boasted of having unearthed the king’s bones.

Following a surge of interest with the discovery of the body of King Richard III – another famous monarch whose skeleton was unearthed underneath a parking lot in Leicester in 2012 – researchers went to work hunting for Alfred.

HUNTING FOR ALFRED

They looked first in the place where Mellor claimed to have left them, in the churchyard of nearby St Bartholomew’s Church, but tests on the remains found there showed the bones were from a number of different people who lived hundreds of years later than Alfred.

Researchers had better luck when they went through two boxes of bones excavated from the site of Hyde Abbey about two decades ago and kept at the Winchester Museum.

One, a pelvis, was radiocarbon dated to roughly around the time Alfred had died. Researchers say that, given the historical record, bones that old could only have come from Alfred or his family.

That conclusion ‘is based on a valid chain of reasoning,’ said Oxford University professor John Blair. Both he and Keynes, who weren’t involved in the discovery, said more data was needed before anyone could determine exactly whose pelvis was found.

Some historians have already argued that the remains should have a Catholic re-burial.”
– This article entitled “Alfred’s bones spark new row over burial for a Catholic king” was published in “The Catholic Universe” issue Sunday 26th January, 2014. For subscriptions please visit http://www.thecatholicuniverse.com (external link).

 
 

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WHAT ON EARTH WILL MY PARENTS SAY IF I BECOME A CATHOLIC?

[I DECIDED TO TALK TO A PROTESTANT CAPACITY]… THOSE TALKS BANGED UPON ME AN UNPLEASANT VISTA OF WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN IF I WENT ‘OVER TO ROME’ – THE LOSS OF MY POSITION, MY SALARY, FRIENDS AND ALL; NOT ONLY THE BURNING OF ALL MY BOATS, BUT THE WOUNDING OF MY MOTHER AND FATHER CRUELLY. (FR DUDLEY, RECEIVED INTO THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN 1915)

ALL THIS, AS A SCHOOLBOY, I DRANK IN. AND I BELIEVED IT.

“My first introduction to the Catholic Church was being spat in the eye by a Roman Catholic boy at school. He was bigger than me; so I let it pass. But I remembered he was a Roman Catholic.

My next was at a magic-lantern entertainment to which I was taken by my mother. In the course of it there appeared on the screen the picture of a very old man in a large hat and a long white soutane. I must have asked my mother who it was, and been informed briefly that it was the ‘Pope of Rome.’ I don’t quite know how, but the impression left in my mind was that there was something fishy about the ‘Pope of Rome.’

THERE WAS SOMETHING FISHY ABOUT THE ‘POPE OF ROME’

At school, I learned in ‘English history’ (which I discovered later was not altogether English and not altogether history) that there was something fishy not only about the Pope of Rome, but about the whole of the Pope’s Church. I gathered that for a thousand years or more the Pope had held all England in his grip, and not only England but all Europe; also that during that period the ‘Roman’, ‘Romish,’ or ‘Roman Catholic’ Church had become more and more corrupt, until finally the original Christianity of Christ had almost disappeared; that idols were worshipped instead of God; that everywhere superstition held sway. No education; no science.

I read of how the ‘Glorious Reformation’ had come; how the light of the Morning Star had burst upon the darkness; how the Pope’s yoke had been flung off, and with it all the trappings and corruptions of Popery; of the triumph of the Reformation in England; of the restoration of the primitive doctrines of Christ and the ‘light of the pure Gospel’; of the progress and prosperity that followed in the reign of ‘good Queen Bess’; of the freeing of men’s minds and the expansion of thought released from the tyranny of Rome.

All this, as an English schoolboy, I drank in. And I believed it.

Next, I did a thing that we all of us have to do; I grew up. And I grew up without questioning the truth of what I had been taught.

‘I COULD ONLY SUPPOSE THAT SOMEHOW HE HAD MANAGED TO KEEP GOOD IN SPITE OF BEING POPE OF ROME’

The time came when I decided to become a Church of England clergyman. For this purpose I entered an Anglican Theological college. And there I must confess I began to get somewhat muddled; for I could not find out what I should have to teach when I became an Anglican clergyman. Even to my youthful mind it became abundantly clear that my various tutors were contradicting each other on vital matters of Christian doctrine. My own fellow students were perpetually arguing on the most fundamental points of religion. I finally emerged from that theological college feeling somewhat like an addled egg, and only dimly realising that the Church of England had given me no theology. I appreciated later that it had no system of theology to give.

It was during that period at college that I first of all went out to Rome, on a holiday. And whilst there I managed to see no less a person than the Pope of Rome himself. It was Pope Pius X – being borne into St Peter’s on the sedia gestatoria. He passed quite close where I was standing, and I could see his face very clearly. It was the face of a saint. I could only suppose that somehow he had managed to keep good in spite of being Pope of Rome. That incident left a deeper impression on my mind than I was aware of at that time.

I kept a diary of all that I saw in Rome, and wrote in it: ‘I can quite imagine a susceptible young man being carried away by all this, and wanting to become a Roman Catholic.’ I myself was safe from the lure of Popery, of course.

‘I FELT LIKE TELLING THEM THEY COULD PRAY UNTIL THEY WERE BLUE IN THE FACE’

As a full-fledged Anglican clergyman, I first of all worked in a country parish. At the end of the year, however, my vicar and I came to the conclusion that it would be wiser to part company; for we were disagreed as to what the Christian religion was.

I then went to a parish in the East End of London, down amongst the costers, hop pickers, and dock labourers. I went down there full of zeal, determined to set the Thames on fire. I very soon discovered, though, that the vast mass of the East-Enders had no interest at all in the religion that I professed. Out of the six thousand or so in the parish not more than one or two hundred ever came near the church. Our hoppers’ socials in the parish hall were well patronised, however. Great nights they were, with a thrilling din of barrel organ, dancing, and singing. I found the Donkey Row hoppers immensely lovable and affectionate. We had wonderful days with them each September in the hopfields of Kent. It was social work. The mass of them we could not even touch with religion.

I grew somewhat ‘extreme’ in this parish under the influence of my vicar, to whom at first I was too ‘Protestant.’ I remember he disliked the hat that I arrived in – a round flat one. The vicarage dog ate the hat, and I bought a more ‘priestly’ one.

For a year or two things went fairly smoothly and I suffered from no qualms about the Anglican religion. How far I sincerely believed that I was a ‘Catholic’ during that period I find it difficult to estimate now. Sufficiently at any rate to argue heatedly with ‘low-church’ and ‘modernist’ clergy in defence of my claim.

And sufficiently to be thoroughly annoyed with a Roman Catholic lady who, wherever we met, told me she was praying for my conversion to the ‘true Church,’ and a Franciscan Friar in the hopfields who told me the same. I felt like telling them they could pray until they were blue in the face. I remember, too, that whenever I met a Roman Catholic priest I experienced a sense of inferiority and a vague feeling of not quite being the real thing, or, at least, of there being an indefinable but marked difference between us.

‘WE WERE BOTH FLATLY CONTRADICTING EACH OTHER’

It was when I could no longer avoid certain unpleasant facts with which I was confronted in my work as an Anglican clergyman, that the first uneasiness came.

I was in the house one day of a certain dock labourer who lived exactly opposite our church but never darkened its doors. I chose the occasion to ask him – why not? His reply flattened me out; it was to the effect that he could see no valid reason for believing what I taught in preference to what the ‘low-church bloke dahn the road’ taught. I could not give a satisfactory answer to his challenge. I don’t suppose he believed in either of us really; but he had placed me in a quandary. We were both Anglican clergymen, and we were both flatly contradicting each other from our respective pulpits.

It set a question simmering in my mind – Why should a n y b o d y believe what I taught? And a further question – What authority had I for what I was teaching?

I began, for the first time with real anxiety, to examine the Anglican Church. And with that examination I found I could no longer blind myself to certain patent facts, which hitherto I had brushed aside. The Established Church was a church of contradictions, of parties, each of which had an equal claim to represent it, and all of which were destructive of its general claim to be a part of the Church of Christ – directly one affirmed in its unity.

As far as authority was concerned, it was possible to believe anything or nothing without ecclesiastical interference. You could be n extreme ‘Anglo-Catholic’ and hold all the doctrines of the Catholic Church except the inconvenient ones like Papal Infallibility; you could be an extreme modernist and deny (whilst retaining Christian terms) all the doctrines of the Christian religion. No bishop said Yes or No imperatively to any party. The bishops were as divided as the parties. For practical purposes, if bishops did interfere, they were ignored, even by their own clergy. If the Holy Ghost, as claimed, was with the Church of England, then, logically, the Holy Ghost was the author of contradictions; for each party claimed His guidance. These facts presented me with a quandary which appeared insurmountable, and which remained insurmountable.

I have often been asked, since my conversion, how, in view of them, Anglican clergy can be sincere in remaining where they are. My reply has been – they are sincere. There is a state of mental blindness in which one is incapable of seeing the plain logic of facts. I only know that it was over a year before I acted on these facts myself. And I honestly believe I was sincere during that period. Only those who have been Protestants can appreciate the thick veil of prejudice, fear, and mistrust of ‘Rome’ which hampers every groping towards the truth.

COULD CHRIST HAVE ALLOWED A HOAX, AN IMPOSTURE OF THAT MAGNITUDE? IN HIS NAME? THE CATHOLIC CHURCH WAS EITHER AN IMPOSTOR OR – OR WHAT?

It was about this time that there fell into my hands a book written by a Catholic priest, who himself had once been an Anglican clergyman, who had been faced by the same difficulties, and who had found the solution of them all in the Catholic Church. ‘But the Catholic Church can’t be the solution,’ I said. And there rose before my mind a vision of all I had been taught about her from my boyhood upwards – her false teaching, her corruptions of the doctrines of Christ. The Catholic Church, though, was the Church of the overwhelming majority of Christians, and always had been. If what I had been taught was true, then, for nearly two thousand years the great mass of Christians had been deluded and deceived by lies. Could Christ have allowed a hoax, an imposture of that magnitude? In His name? The Catholic Church was either an imposture or – Or what?

I KNELT FOR HALF AN HOUR BEFORE THE BLESSED SACRAMENT. I CAME OUT TERRIBLY SHAKEN – SPIRITUALLY SHAKEN

I began to buy Catholic books to study Catholic doctrines. To read history from the Catholic standpoint. The day came when I sat looking into the fire asking myself: ‘Is what the world says of the Catholic Church true? Or what the Catholic Church says of herself? Have I all these years been shaking my fist at a phantom of my own imagining fed on prejudice and ignorance?

I compared her Unity with the complete lack of it outside. Her Authority with the absence of anything approaching real authority in the Church of which I was a member and a minister. The unchangeable moral code she proclaimed with the wavering, shilly-shallying moral expediency that Protestantism allowed. She began to look so very much more like the Church that God would have made, just as the Established Church began to look so very much more like the church that man would have made.

When I was passing Westminster [Catholic] Cathedral one day I went in and knelt for half an hour before the Blessed Sacrament. I came out terribly shaken – spiritually shaken. It is impossible to describe ; but in that short half an hour what, until now, I had contemplated as a problem, had suddenly assumed an aspect of imperativeness. A problem that had to be solved, not played with. For within those four walls there loomed up before my spiritual vision an immensity, a vast reality, before everything else had shrunk away. The church, whose clergyman I was, seemed to have slipped away from under my feet.

I returned to the East End dazed. That night amongst the hoppers I felt like a stranger moving about.

MY WHOLE BEING REVOLTED AGAINST THE PROSPECT

I went about for weeks in a state of uncertainty, undecided in my conscience as to whether I was morally bound to face things out or not – wretched under the suspicion that what ‘Rome’ said might be true – that I was no priest: that my ‘Mass’ was no Mass at all; that I was genuflecting before – ?; that my ‘absolutions’ were worthless. The more I prayed about it, the more unreal my ministry appeared.

I decided to consult a certain very ‘extreme’ clergyman, whom I believed sincere beyond question (as he was), and a man of deep spiritual piety. I had three or four talks with him in all, the general result of which was to leave me more confused intellectually than ever, but spiritually more at peace; though it took me months before I realised that this peace was a false one, and that I had shelved the matter not from its intellectual difficulties, but for worldly reasons. For those talks had banged upon me an unpleasant vista of what might happen if I went ‘over to Rome’ – the loss of my position, my salary, friends and all; not only the burning of all my boats, but the wounding of my mother and father cruelly. Even more, ‘Rome’ might not accept me for her priesthood; in any case it would be starting all over again, possibly from baptism. If she did not want me for a priest, I should have to…

My whole being revolted against the prospect. It was impossible – such a demand. I had been carried away by emotions. It was a snare of Satan. I should be a traitor to the Church of my baptism. God had placed me here in the Church of England. He was blessing my work as its minister. He had given me endless graces.

I buried myself in that work again, and for a time succeeded in forgetting, or at least stifling, the fears that had been my torment – until the haphazard remark of a photographer (registering my features), an agnostic I believe, opened my eyes to my inability to defend the Established Church’s position; it was to the effect that if Christianity were true, obviously the Roman Catholic Church, with her authority was right.

AN AGNOSTIC WITH NO AX TO GRIND TOLD ME, ‘IF I WERE RELIGIOUS, I’D BE A ROMAN CATHOLIC.’

It was the testimony of a man who had no ax to grind. A Jewish dentist made the same remark in effect to me shortly afterwards. The man-in-the-street testifies the same with his: ‘If I were religious, I’d be a Roman Catholic.’

Whether it was the photographer or not, my fears were released once more from their repression, abruptly and acutely, and this time I resolved that it should be a fight to the finish, either way – that no worldly or material consideration should interfere. The clergyman whom I had consulted had already made one thing clear in my mind – that the issue between Rome and Canterbury, the crux of the whole problem, was the claim of Rome to be the Infallible teaching authority appointed by God, and the denial by Canterbury of that claim. The whole question boiled down to the question of Infallibility, and on that everything else hung.

WHY SHOULD I STAKE MY IMMORTAL SOUL UPON HUMAN OPINION?

I entered upon an intensive study of the point. I read the history of the doctrine, the Fathers and the Councils of the Church, and what they had to say; examined its rationality. At the end of some months I came to the conclusion – that, as far as Holy Scripture, history, and reason were concerned, the Catholic Church could prove her claim to be God’s Infallible Teacher up to the hilt.

It is difficult after all these years to recapture the exact mode of its appeal to my reason; but it was the appeal that the doctrine of the Infallibility of the Church inevitably presents to any man who is prepared to lay aside bias, prejudice, and preconceptions. I will try to state it in the fewest words possible.

Infallibility is the only guarantee we have that the Christian religion is true. Actually, if I, at the moment, did not believe in an Infallible Teacher appointed by God, then nothing on earth would induce me to believe in the Christian religion. If, as outside the Catholic Church, Christian doctrines are a matter of private judgment, and therefore the Christian religion a mere matter of human opinion, then there is no obligation upon any living soul to believe in it. Why should I stake my immortal soul upon human opinion? For that is all you have if you refuse the Infallible Church.”
– This is part I of “Practical Failure of Anglicanism” by Fr Owen Francis Dudley from “Through Hundred Gates”, The Bruce Publishing Company. Milwaukee, WI, USA: 1938, pp. 308; reprinted in “Christ to the World” (International Review of Documentation and Apostolic Experiences), N 6 Nov-Dec 2009 Vol. 54; email: md2249@mclink.it

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2013 in Prayers for Ordinary Time

 

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